In today's experience economy, businesses need to think of new ways to connect with customers and secure their loyalty. Customers expect not just products and services anymore; they expect elevated, high-quality experiences. They are willing to pay more for better experiences and will quickly abandon a business following a single bad experience.
To keep up with higher customer expectations, companies need to continually evolve and ensure each interaction helps build loyalty — not tear it down.
Businesses need to focus on the total brand experience, not just to gain a competitive edge but also to survive.
While businesses understand the foundational need for exceptional customer service, most entrepreneurs face challenges related to the cost of implementing measures that will boost customer service in their organizations. With shoestring budgets, many well-intentioned small businesses often fall behind. So we spoke to 15 TAB Members and TAB Business Owners for advice on no-cost ways to improve customer service and compiled a list of tips you can begin implementing in your business right now.
1. Identify Gaps in Your Customer journey.
Customer Journey Maps provide a unique way of understanding the current customer experience and pinpointing specific areas where improvement is needed. Here's how you can create and use your Customer Journey Map:
- Include all departments involved in the customer experience, from the first interaction as a prospect to ongoing account management once they become a new client.
- Get input from sales, onboarding, product, service, delivery teams, invoicing, customer service, and account managers. Put your 'client' hat on, and map out end-to-end what the current customer experience looks like.
- Color code each segment: red for unhappy, yellow for lukewarm/somewhat satisfied, and green for happy/ extremely satisfied, as you think about how the customer feels throughout the journey.
- Now, rewrite the journey paying attention to improvements that result in customers feeling great about the experience.
- Weigh areas that may be highly valued.
- Lastly, identify the changes necessary to turn the map green.
2. Call Every Client
Have a member of the leadership team call clients periodically. Develop a plan to ensure that every client (or at least, every important client) gets a call once a quarter or every six months. The purpose of the call is to deepen the relationship, find out how their business is doing, get an idea of their biggest challenges, and receive feedback on your products or services.
3. Feature Your Clients
Feature your clients in social media posts. You can celebrate their successes, awards they win, new products or services they are rolling out, anniversaries (like x years in business), or anything else of interest. Featuring clients gives them (and you) a visibility boost.
4. Be Your Customer's Champion
Make sure you like and share social media posts created by your customers (on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter —wherever they reside). You'll help promote their business and reinforce that you care about them.
5. Train Your Team
Train your team to make each customer their priority every time they interact with them. Train all staff to ask customers if they need assistance even if they seem not to need help.
Show them how to connect with customers at every opportunity. For instance, compliment them, ask them how their day is going, or tell them they have an excellent phone voice. Make every attempt to keep customers engaged by limiting disruptions. Apologize for interruptions when they do occur or for long wait times. Leave every interaction with a customer on a positive note.
When customers take the time to report excellent customer service, make sure you acknowledge the employee personally and during the next staff meeting. Employees want to be recognized for doing a great job, and this reinforces the desired customer service performance.
Want additional insight? Read 5 Ways Business Owners and CEOs Prepare to Seize Opportunities now to learn more
6. Own Your Mistakes
To err is human. We all make mistakes. One of the simplest and possibly most effective way to provide your customers with a great experience is to own your mistake. Communicate with them using the appropriate medium – text and/or email, website updates, social media, etc. Share what happened, and more often than not, your customers will appreciate the communication effort, and be more understanding.
For example, you could write something like: "Dear Blair, we are down an employee, and I have to pick up their slack for the moment, so I am a bit behind. You are very important to me, and I intend to serve you as promised. You can expect to hear from me within the next few days."
You will find that people are far more understanding than you expect, and they genuinely appreciate hearing from you. The cost – $0 and a little bit of time. The reward: a satisfied customer who will potentially share their experience with others when referring you.
7. Be Proactive With Your Communication
When it comes to customer service, there are two operative words: Serve Customers. Excellent customer service is much more than just responding to your customers' questions; it is about being proactive with your communication.
- I got your message and will respond by the end of the day.
- I am researching your question and expect to have the information you requested by Thursday.
- Just a heads up, we may not make our set date, since we had an emergency in our operation. We will keep you informed.
Nothing irks a customer more than not being heard or not being kept informed. If you can't do this for every customer, share with your customer service people those accounts that are at risk, are considering an additional piece of business, or with whom there is some consequence for meeting or exceeding expectations.
8. Focus on the Most Critical Touch Points
Always focus on the touch points for the customer. By keeping the focus on the critical points of the customer experience, (delivery, installation or whatever the case maybe), that extra customer touch will go a long way toward fostering brand loyalty.
9. Make a Human Connection
It has never been more critical to make a human connection with your customer.
The pandemic set the transition to online interactions into warp speed. Our business channels have flexed beyond the retail sector, and now they touch all sectors of life, our work, our play, and our education.
What we learn from the early adopters who conduct business online is the shift from providing Customer Service to providing a Customer Experience (or User Experience.) The online change enables us to have multiple touch points with our customers, including video, chat, text, and emails. That shift has created a breeding ground for developing the best practice for our business.
This simple shift in mindset, from service to experience, is what customers will cherish most.
In my opinion, the simplest, best, human connection to improve customer interaction is still an old-fashioned phone call.
Find your formula, and remember to prioritize the experience using all touch points.
10. Go the Extra Mile to Prepare
Many of my busiest members at the moment are in the service business: contractors, electricians, plumbers, etc. At this time, more than ever, small symbols make a big difference. These members go the extra step to have a morning huddle during which they review each technician's jobs for the day. They make sure they have all the right materials and tools for the jobs and are professionally dressed. Everyone must have a company uniform, and it must be clean and neat. Booties for entering homes, extra rags for cleanup, and gloves as appropriate are all checked. Business cards and company brochures are stocked. Vehicles must be clean, running smoothly, and have company signage, including BBB symbols and "best of" awards in plain view.
11. Add a Personalized Touch
Sometimes technology can make the buying experience feel impersonal, making it easier for your customers to leave on price or perceived indifference. To build loyalty, examine the customer's buying journey and where it could benefit from a more personal touch, like a handwritten note or phone call.
It could be a new customer's first online order or an unusually large order, but whatever you and your business want more of (new orders, large orders, repeat business), develop a system to build a personalized touch.
You want your customers, both new and existing, to feel great about transacting with you, so they continue to be customers for many years in the future.
12. Rebranding in the Wake of COVID-19
Etching your customers' path to their buying decision of your products and services has become a little trickier, even more so, since COVID-19. You find yourself researching media platforms that are new to you, or you've never given consideration.
Your customers are concerned with staying healthy and staying at home, so their buying decisions have been redirected and influenced by the need to learn more about your services. We are finding consumers visiting new online platforms they would not usually browse in the attempt to satisfy their need to "learn more" and give their business exposure.
What is your business continuity plan for rebranding yourself, your company, your products, and your services? In more extreme cases, I see companies scrambling to invest capital in branding and content marketing. With excellent strategic planning and a well written or updated marketing/branding plan, it could potentially bring you back a great ROI.
13. Empower Your Customer Service Team
Give your Customer Service Team the authority to solve a customer's minor issue without having to escalate the problem to management. That level of power can be a dollar range and/or a list of common problems they have the authority to fix right away. Doing this will increase your level of responsiveness and lead to greater customer satisfaction.
14. Seek Feedback From Your Customers, Continually
We all make assumptions that our customers must be happy because they continue to buy from us. They may be 'happy,' but are they satisfied to the point of proactively giving you a referral? A simple tactic is to seek input from your customers continually. Take the time to ask them how they are doing, if the delivery of service meet their expectations, what you do well, and what can your company do to improve your customer service. Whether it is a phone call, email, or a letter, a genuine request for feedback will yield results and keep you informed. However, it does not stop there. It would be best if you did something with the input. If you use customer input to improve your service, let them know you appreciate their feedback and let them know how their suggestions have helped you make improvements. If you can get your client to shift from just buying from you to having a general interest in making you better, you have a deeper relationship, and they become invested in your success.
15. Build Rapport With Your Customers By Showing Interest
I have a couple of ways to build relationships with clients, but both are essentially the same in that you need to know what is important to them. The first thing I do is I keep an eye open for blogs, articles, and other relevant information to either their business or a hobby they enjoy. In some cases, the latter is better as you're connecting with them on a personal level. Of course, the next step is to send it to them either electronically or physically.
The other way I keep in touch with my clients is by commenting on and liking their LinkedIn posts. I also use the @name function in LinkedIn, so they are sure to see my comments. Of course, this makes the most sense if they use LinkedIn as a way of promoting themselves or their business.